Choosing My 2015 Fall Race
Choosing My 2015 Fall Race avatar

With a successful Go! St. Louis Marathon in my rear-view mirror, my attention turns to choosing my next race. Sometimes choosing your next race can be just as tough as training for it! Okay, maybe not quite that bad. Here is what went into choosing my next target — a fall marathon.

I’ve had it in the back of my head for a couple years now to run a marathon in every state. What started as an excuse to travel to new cities has grown into a bit of an obsession. When it’s time to start looking for the next race, I have to break out my trusty map which has my completed states highlighted (10 so far!). As soon as my wife sees what I’m up to, I inevitably hear, “Why don’t you run Hawaii this year?” She still doesn’t understand that I am saving Hawaii for closer to the end of my quest (it’s my carrot to keep running!).

I also keep a spreadsheet of all 50 states, complete with the races I’ve run and finishing times. I keep a column for specific races I want to run in the future, along with their approximate dates. Since I didn’t have anything on the list that lined up with my October timeframe, I took to the internet to see what I could find. There are countless website to help find races. We all have our favorites, and mine is Marathon Guide. It has one of the most complete lists, plus a convenient month-by-month view which is perfect if you are looking for a specific timeframe. Additionally, there are some really nice features like runner comments, course maps, elevation charts and aggregated race results.

After a bit of poking around, visiting race sites, and falling into several internet-marathon worm holes, I happened upon the Baltimore Marathon. The dates worked out, the course looked good, and the reviews were fantastic. I was pretty excited about my choice so I announced to my wife, “I think I’ve found the next one; We’re going to Baltimore!” She enjoys traveling to races with me and will occasionally run the half marathon if they have the option. So, I was shocked by her response, “Uuugh, I don’t want to go to Maryland.”

Oh well, it was back to the trenches to find a race that worked for both of us. After another half hour of searching I was ready to throw in the towel. With a bit of frustration, I turned to my wife who was sitting on the couch next to me and said, “If you don’t want to go to Baltimore, where do you want to go?” She thought about it for a second and replied, “I don’t know… Is there a marathon in Portland?” By complete chance, we just happened to be watching a show about Portland (no it was not Portlandia, but that is a great show!). I pulled up the website for the Portland Marathon and as luck would have it, the marathon is October 4th. So, we were back in business!

The story doesn’t end there. Being a fairly competitive runner and always wanting to PR, my focus shifted to what the course was like. The race website give you nice and clean little elevation chart:

Portland Marathon Elevation Chart

Portland Marathon Elevation Chart

That doesn’t look bad at all! 100 foot climb across 3 miles, a small hill around mile 12, a 150 foot climb over 2 miles starting at mile 15, and smooth sailing from there! I’ve been burned by a couple course maps before where rounding managed to leave a lot out. Being an experienced runner, I knew it was time to dig a little deeper.

Next I turned back to Marathon Guide to consult their elevation chart:

Marathon Guide Elevation Chart

Marathon Guide Elevation Chart

Aside from being slightly more exaggerated through mile 16, the first part of the chart lines up pretty close to the other chart, but… WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING STARTING AT MILE 17?!?!? That can’t be accurate, can it???

It was time to get serious. I knew what I wanted, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find it. This time, we Google! Fortunately, with all the run tracking websites that feature GPS upload capability, I managed to find exactly what I wanted — someone had uploaded their GPS elevation from the previous years race to a website:

GPS Elevation Chart

GPS Elevation Chart

Yikes! That almost EXACTLY matches the Marathon Guide chart. My concern with these elevations is not with the height of the hills themselves. I am a fairly strong hill runner for someone from the Midwest. My concern is with the multiple back-to-back spikes that show up on the map. If those are accurate, I’m in a heap of trouble! Enough with the high-tech tools. Time to get “old fashioned” and to turn to a friend who lives out there!

An exchange of e-mails over a couple days put me in a better mood about the course. Though she couldn’t recall the course exactly, she said those points lined up with the two bridges that cross the river. I was able to confirm this using the same website that housed the GPS charts. I don’t know of many bridges that start at 175 feet of elevation, and drop down to just above sea-level as they cross a river, so I am fairly confident that these are in fact anomalies!

I am not convinced that I can run a PR on this course, but I know I can give it a shot! Hotel is booked, registration is confirmed, all I have to do is start my training! If only there were some hills out here…

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